Always get a vehicle history report before buying a use... Always get a vehicle history report before buying a used car (Credit: Valerie Everett, Flickr).
About 16% of used cars for sale have an accident on record, according to a study done by CarGurus.

The study also found that 22% of used car listings were identified as former fleet vehicles, which were more than twice as likely to have an accident on record as cars owned by individuals. Car accidents can have a big effect on a used vehicle's price, depending on the severity of the crash.

If you're buying a used car, you could be getting hosed if you're not doing any research. Not looking into a car's history to see if it has been in an accident could mean that you end up overpaying by quite a bit.

CarGurus analyzed the vehicle history reports of 2 million used car listings posted by dealers and private sellers. Though the report did not distinguish between major and minor accidents, the findings were rather sobering.

Even nearly-new used cars end up being accident prone, CarGurus said. The group found that 8% of recent models (2009-2011) listed for sale had an accident on record. Thirty-five percent of those were formerly fleet vehicles.

The accident history's effect on the value of a car varied depending on the model, but, in general, a past accident caused a used vehicle's value to drop between 3% and 12%.

"There is great savings potential in buying a used car, but there's also the potential to get burned if you don't do your homework," said Langley Steinert, founder and CEO of CarGurus in a press release. "A minor accident or prior fleet ownership does not have to be a deal breaker, but it is information you absolutely need to know as you consider the purchase and the price."

A used vehicle's listed price may not take a past accident into account. Shady sellers abound and if you're not smart, you could be on the hook for thousands more than the car is actually worth.

That's why you should always get a vehicle history report, through a service such as CarFax, before you buy. These reports cost around $40, but are well worth it, considering that they can uncover past accidents, as well as maintenance issues, odometer problems, recalls and a wide variety of other things. We also recommend having a trusted mechanic take a look at a used car for existing or potential problems before you buy.

It'll cost a little extra to have a car looked at, but it will be well worth it in the long run, especially after seeing these numbers.


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